Freedom

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Freedom

On July 4, 1776, the continental congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, stating that the United States was a free and independent nation. Two days earlier the congress voted in favor of independence and John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that July 2 “will be celebrated by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” Of course, after congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, America has celebrated that day ever since. John Adams, however, always thought that July 2 should have been the correct day to celebrate and he turned down invitations to speak at 4th of July celebrations. Though Independence Day became a state holiday in many of the states, it wasn't until 1870 that the US Congress made the day a federal holiday. Today, we celebrate with fireworks, barbecues, patriotic music, and get-togethers with family and friends.

Freedom and independence are important. As Americans they run through our blood. As Christians, too, freedom and independence are important. Some of the first immigrants to the United States were people looking for religious freedom, a place where they could practice their beliefs according to their own conscience. But true independence is more than just physical freedom. It involves spiritual freedom: freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from eternal death. This freedom can only be granted us from one individual: Jesus Christ. In the dialogue that followed the encounter of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The freedom He offers is so much more than temporary, earthly freedom. It is an eternal freedom that transcends any other kind of freedom. So yes, let's celebrate Independence Day and thank God for the freedom we have in this country, but let's also thank Him for setting us free through the gift of His Son.

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True Entertainment

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True Entertainment

I had an interesting discussion with a fellow pastor a few days ago as we stood inside the Colosseum in Rome. We were talking about the gladiators who had fought there and the conversation shifted to the type of entertainment the Romans were used to and how similar or dissimilar to our entertainment it was. I made the comment that I couldn't imagine sitting there watching people kill each other. It seems so brutal to me and makes me queazy just thinking about it. My fellow pastor reminded me that we still do it all the time today as we sit in our living rooms watching the TV. For some reason, that seems different to me. I know scientifically that our brain doesn't know the difference between reality and television, but the knowledge that I'm seeing actors on the screen rather than people actually killing each other somehow changes the way I think of things. But am I right? Is there really any difference between our entertainment and the entertainment of the ancient Romans? Wherever you stand on this debate, the similarities between our modern culture and the ancient Roman culture are undeniable. We are focused on entertainment and serving our own interests. We are surrounded by every convenience imaginable and yet we are unhappy.

When John copied the message that Jesus gave to the church in Laodicea, I'm sure he couldn't help but see the similarities between that church and nearly everyone in the society around him. And today, as we look around the world, we see the words ring true - not just spiritually in the church but in every facet of society. "You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Just like the ancient Romans, we are so concerned about ourselves and our own comfort that we don't see we really lack everything that's truly valuable. The entertainment that Christ prescribes is not a gladiator match in the Colosseum. Instead, He says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). Why don't you spend less time pursuing the pleasures of the world and more time inviting Jesus in for supper? You just may find that the entertainment He provides is better than anything this world can offer.

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May I Be as Faithful

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May I Be as Faithful

Yesterday was incredible. We finally visited one of the most famous Waldensian valleys - the Piedmont Valley and Torre Pellice. It was so inspiring to stand inside the College of the Barbs (Uncles), where pastors and missionaries, known as uncles, would be trained. I was so excited to see the stone table, where copies of the Bible were made. And I stood in awe inside one of the caves where they would worship in secret. I could almost hear the rocks reverberate the sound of their voices as we lifted ours to join in their song - “Faith of our fathers, living faith...” What made the biggest impression on me, though, was a stone monument erected in 1932, at the spot where leaders of the reformation met with the Waldenses for six days and they signed a document which stated that the Waldenses would join with the reformers. This was honestly both good and bad. You’ve probably heard that this was when the Waldenses began keeping Sunday, compromising truth in order to join this new movement. This is true. But there’s something else you need to know. You see, many of the Waldenses had already begun to compromise, allowing priests to baptize their babies and attending mass on Sundays. This union with the Protestant reformation actually brought a revival into the hearts and lives of the Waldenses. As part of this unification, they also delivered the first translation of the entire Bible, a French translation, into the hands of the reformers. As a result, we have much to thank the Waldenses for.

As I stand in the alps, gazing out over the beautiful valleys and up at the rocky peaks, I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to have been here nearly 500 years ago, when the Waldenses realized their darkest days were behind them and that they could join a bigger movement. What would it have been like 700 years ago, fighting a seemingly endless war and taking refuge among the rugged beauties of nature? As I think about these things, my mind goes to the beautiful book of Psalms, many of which were written by a man who himself had to flee into the mountains. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:1-3). When the time comes for my faith to be tested, may I be as faithful as the Waldenses who knew that their help came from the Lord.

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Problems or Distractions?

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Problems or Distractions?

On Sunday, my brother Caleb and I went tubing on Deep Creek in western North Carolina. As many of you know, I have been at Southern Adventist University for the last week and a half taking a class for my graduate degree. Since Deep Creek was only a two hour drive away and Caleb wanted to do something on the water, we figured this would be a fun thing to do. Once we rented our inner tubes, we hiked up this mile-long trail along the creek before attempting to float back down to where we were parked. The man who rented the inner tubes to us kindly told us that about one in every two people end up flipping over into the water. Well, guess who the lucky one was. Except I didn't just flip once. I tipped over repeatedly! It seemed I couldn't make it over any kind of rapid without ending up under the water. On my way back up the trail for our second trip, however, I noticed that everyone seemed so relaxed. How could they be relaxed? I was fighting to keep my inner tube upright and it still didn't work! Then a thought hit me. What if they were staying upright successfully because they were relaxed? I figured I'd give it a try. Instead of focusing on the rapids, I simply relaxed, and focused on getting down the river and enjoying the ride. From then on, I never tipped over my inner tube.

Something else dawned on me as I was peacefully floating down the creek. In a movie, the hero will sometimes be fighting against someone who seems to have them matched, strength for strength. There's no way the hero is going to win and he's starting to get tired. Then suddenly, he hears the cry of someone who needs help. Throwing the opponent to the side, the hero rushes to the person's aid as if the opponent never existed and had no more strength than a cardboard cutout. This is the way it was for me on the river. I discovered that, in order to be successful and not get bogged down by things, we need to look at the "rapids" in our lives as distractions, not as problems. If we see them as problems, we focus on them and they become big and powerful. But if we look at them as distractions, then we can brush them aside as we continue towards our goal. The writer of Hebrews had this in mind when he said, "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1, 2). Jesus is our goal. The sins which so easily ensnares us are just distractions. Won't you brush the devil aside and run with endurance the race that is set before you?

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Time for Everything

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Time for Everything

Managing time is tough. In fact, according to the leading experts in the field, we don't manage time at all. Instead, we manage ourselves in time. And managing ourselves is even more difficult. I'm currently at Southern working on another graduate class. The one I'm taking this year is called, "Time and Life Management for Pastors." It has been just as practical and thought provoking as you would expect. I've discovered that, even though time management is one of my passions and I thought I was at least keeping my head above water, I have a lot to do to manage myself in time better. Life is so crazy and hectic that some would argue that it's impossible to live a controlled life in the world today. But as Christians, it's imperative that we learn to manage our time so we can hear God's voice and ultimately bring honor and glory to His name.

Sometimes I wonder if Solomon even understood how crazy life could get when he wrote that there is "time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Did he even attempt to do every purpose found under heaven? But if you keep reading, you'll discover a list of all of these things that each have their time and their season. And suddenly you'l realize that Solomon understood time management! One of the first rules is that you have to create a schedule and realize that different things need to be done at different times. You can't attempt everything at once and expect to succeed at anything! But if you look at your day, your week, your year, and set aside different times for different activities, you'll begin to understand that there truly is time for everything.

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An Eternity of Fellowship

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An Eternity of Fellowship

During the eighteenth century, there was a movement in Scottish Presbyterianism that became dissatisfied with the church hierarchy, poverty, and lack of ministers. Their solution was to hold week-long meetings called Communion Seasons where several parishes would gather in the open air and spend time together feasting, listening to sermons, and celebrating the Lord's Supper. In the nineteenth century, immigrants from Scotland brought this tradition to the United States. On the frontier, neighbors were scarce and churches were scarcer. Ministers from different denominations would announce that they would hold a religious meeting at a certain place and all the people around would gather to hear preaching and singing. These became known as Camp Meetings and they were an integral part of the Second Great Revival that swept the United States during the 1800's. Several churches still keep the tradition going, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

I am on the campus of Highland Academy, just north of Nashville, for the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference Camp Meeting as I type this. I am gathered with all the pastors in our conference as well as many lay people who gather for a whole week to hear preaching and singing and fellowship with one another. Every time I experience something like this, my mind goes to this verse in Isaiah. "'And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me,' says the Lord" (Isaiah 66:23). Camp meetings are a shadow, a small taste of an eternity of fellowship to come. Aren't you so excited for that day?

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28 Things I've Learned

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28 Things I've Learned

Yesterday was my 28th birthday. I know that doesn't seem very old, but somehow thirty seems like it's just around the corner and I'm well into my downhill slide to fifty. As I was considering my short existence, however, I was thinking about some of the things I've learned. Every birthday gives us another chance to evaluate our lives and take inventory on things we've discovered or maybe things we still need to understand. I ended up making a list of 28 things I've learned and I thought I would share them with you.

  1. My imagination is my most valuable muscle
  2. Fresh air, water, and sleep always cure a headache
  3. Sleep solves 98% of problems
  4. Never turn down free food
  5. Helping someone is always worth the extra time
  6. Smile at everyone
  7. Always be on time
  8. Two good friends are worth more than a hundred acquaintances
  9. Live below your means
  10. Flying puts the world into perspective
  11. A perfect landing doesn’t exist
  12. Go with your gut
  13. Friends are passing but family is forever
  14. Always kiss your spouse goodnight
  15. Say “I love you” often
  16. The neighbor’s grass may be greener, but it still needs to be mowed
  17. Don’t worry - things usually work out
  18. Pray first
  19. Never accept “good enough”
  20. Stay hungry
  21. The more I learn, the less I know
  22. Don’t just travel: experience the world through another’s eyes
  23. I’m not the center of the world
  24. God would have sent Jesus just for me
  25. There are people who care how I’m doing
  26. Give God the glory
  27. Watch for beauty
  28. Live in a spirit of thankfulness

I know I've learned a lot more than what's on the list, but this is at least a sample of the things God has tried to teach me so far. One of my favorite promises in the Bible was one that God gave to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you" (Jeremiah 1:5). God has a plan for each one of us and He longs to teach us to follow His will. If you haven't recently, sit down and make your own list. What have you learned in your life so far? It probably won't be a comprehensive list, but you'll be amazed at the lessons God has taught you and you'll start looking forward to the other things He's longing to show you.

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Too Much Chocolate?

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Too Much Chocolate?

As I was skimming through the news this morning, one headline in particular caught my eye and made me chuckle. It read like this: "Not so sweet: Tanker truck crash spills liquid chocolate onto highway." Apparently a tanker truck in Poland ended up overturning this morning. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt. The driver went to the hospital with a broken arm, but no one else was involved. The thing that made me laugh, however, was that the truck had been carrying liquid chocolate. As it oozed out over the surface of the road, it began to cool, hardening into a huge chocolate candy bar. The clean up crews were having to ship in hot water to try and melt the chocolate so they could clean it up. I know it sounds like the blissful fulfillment of some crazy dream, but apparently a huge chocolate candy bar is just a mess if it's in the wrong place.

As Christians, and particularly Seventh-day Adventists, we know a lot of wonderful things. We get excited about how we can discover the character of God through the doctrines that we teach, such as the state of the dead or the Sabbath. These truths can be as sweet as chocolate to you, but before you spill all that sweetness over someone, make sure they're ready for it. Jesus, near the end of His time on earth, said this, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). If Jesus still couldn't share things with people who had spent three-and-a-half years soaking up His every word, how much wiser should we be to make sure we don't overwhelm people with all we want to tell them? I'm not saying we shouldn't share these incredible doctrines with people - quite the opposite! The world needs to hear the message we have to give. Just don't overwhelm them; because it turns out that truth, like chocolate, is best one piece at a time.

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Humility and Wisdom

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Humility and Wisdom

Marcus Aurelius ruled the world from 161 to 180 AD. In spite of an increase in the persecution of Christians during his reign, he was a good emperor. In fact, he is known as the last of the five good emperors of Rome. His death marked the end of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) and began the decline and eventual fall of the empire. The story is told that Marcus hired an assistant to follow him as he walked through the various towns. This assistant's only role was, when the emperor was praised, to whisper in his ear, "You're just a man." It's said that Marcus had to be convinced to become emperor and he only did it out of duty for his country. Even then, however, he only agreed so long as his adoptive brother also became emperor and they held equal power. He understood the dangers of his position and knew that he had to remain humble in order to lead well.

I realize that none of you are emperors or have entire nations in your charge. But whoever you are and whatever responsibility you have, humility is the only way that you can accomplish it well. In the book of Proverbs we read, "Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2, NLT). No one appreciates an arrogant person and people refuse to follow a conceited leader. As the redeemed of God, we have no reason to boast. We are only here by grace and mercy! We are saved, not because of anything we have done but because of what He has done! Whatever you have accomplished, whatever greatness you have achieved, remember: You are just a man or woman, here by the grace of God. But you are worth so much because Christ paid so much for you. And that is something worth sharing with the world!

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Spend Time With God

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Spend Time With God

This last weekend Chelsea and I were able to attend a pastors / elders retreat at Indian Creek Camp. The emphasis was church planting and revitalization and we came away from the event with renewed dedication and inspiration. One of the things that was discussed multiple times was the need for devotional time in each church member's life. This, of course, starts with the pastor who should be leading the congregation by example. To be honest, I sometimes struggle with having a personal devotion time. That's not to say that I don't spend time in the Bible every day, but the majority of that time is spent for work purposes. It's easy to justify it, however, and say that my study for a sermon or newsletter or worship talk qualifies as my time with God. But, while it does help my walk with God, those things are studied with a purpose of sharing something with others, not specifically to hear what God is trying to say to me. I have made a new commitment to try and spend time with God each day completely focusing on my relationship with Him in addition to spending time for the purpose of sharing that relationship with others.

I know I'm not alone in my struggle to prioritize daily personal time with God. But this is something that we each need to make a priority. Several weeks ago in Pulaski, we were studying Daniel chapter six: the story of the lions' den. One thing that stood out to me was Daniel's faithfulness to his God no matter the circumstances. You know the story. The other governors and princes of Medo-Persia were jealous of Daniel, so they tricked the king into making a law forbidding worship of anyone but himself. "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days" (Daniel 6:10). Daniel's personal time with God was so important that even being threatened with death couldn't stop him. Do you have that kind of commitment to spending time with Him each and every day?

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Glacier Girl

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Glacier Girl

On July 15, 1942, a squadron of warbirds was flying from Greenland to England on its journey from the United States. Running into bad weather, the six P-38 fighters and two B-17 bombers turned around and tried to get back to Greenland. Finding the airfield closed, they prepared for a crash landing on the ice cap. Brad McManus was lowest on fuel, so his P-38 was the first to attempt the landing. With the wheels down, however, the nose gear collapsed and the aircraft flipped upside down. The rest of the warbirds put their gears up again and landed on their bellies. Nine days later they were rescued by a dogsled team that led them to the coast and a waiting Coast Guard cutter. The squadron was soon forgotten amongst the other stories coming out of the war, but the pilots still remembered their planes. Finally, in the 1980's, the Greenland Expedition Society began searching for the lost aircraft. They finally found them two miles away from where they had landed and 262 feet below the surface of the ice. In 1992 they were able to take the last piece of one of the P-38s out of the ice. That aircraft has been fully restored and is now known as Glacier Girl.

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I was really excited to see Glacier Girl last week at Sun-N-Fun and inspired as I learned about its story. My mind went to our condition as humans. We have crash-landed, are buried by sin and crushed to pieces. But God offers to pull us up out of this crushing prison we have become buried in and puts the pieces back together, restoring us into His image from which we have fallen. David once wrote, "You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth." (Psalm 71:20, NLT). Just like Glacier Girl, God promises that we will soar, completely restored into His image. What an amazing God we serve!

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The Osterhase

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The Osterhase

Hundreds of years ago, according to legend, a poor German widow and her children were struggling to survive through a brutal famine. With the country nearly out of food, hunger was always present in their home. But there was also love and the devoted mother was always looking for ways to brighten her children's days. Suddenly she stumbled upon an idea. She had a few small eggs that she had planned for a special treat, but instead of just boiling them and letting the children eat them, she decided to decorate them and hide them in the garden for the youngsters to find. This she did, but as soon as the children found the eggs, they looked up and saw a large hare (hase) hopping away. They assumed that the rabbit had left the eggs for them and ever since then, the Osterhase (Easter Hare) became a part of German folklore. When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania during the 1700's they brought their legend of a large rabbit that laid eggs on Easter with them.

I realize that as we search the history books, we discover that eggs and rabbits have long been associated with the spring equinox as symbols of fertility and new life. Somewhere as early as the 13th century, eggs at least began to be used in Christian circles to represent the resurrection. Whether you compare rabbits and eggs to the resurrection or not, there are plenty of other symbols around us that we see, reminding us that death is temporary. The leaves budding from the trees, the flowers pushing up from the soil, the grass turning green again, even the pollen filling the air lets us know that we have a hope beyond the grave. And this hope was given because two thousand years ago Jesus stood outside of an empty tomb, proclaiming as He had only weeks before at the tomb of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live" (John 11:25). Today, when we look at a cross, we don't see the pagan symbol of death that it once was. Instead, we see a symbol of hope and eternal life. Someday soon the dead will rise. Someday soon we will be clothed with immortality. Someday soon we will see our loved ones again. They will rise because He is risen!

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Leaving Room for Doubt

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Leaving Room for Doubt

We have been going through the book Steps to Christ at prayer meeting in Pulaski. Yesterday we covered the chapter "What To Do With Doubt." There was a statement near the beginning of that chapter that really stood out to me. In talking about God and believing everything He says, Ellen White wrote this, "Our faith must rest upon evidence, not demonstration. Those who wish to doubt will have opportunity; while those who really desire to know the truth will find plenty of evidence on which to rest their faith." In other words, God leaves room for us to doubt! He doesn't supply all the answers in this life. But this is why we have to have faith! In fact, in order for faith to exist, there must be room for doubt. We can't have all the answers.

The definition of faith is found in Hebrews chapter eleven: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). According to that definition, faith cannot exist unless the things are hoped for or not seen. I host a weekly radio program here in Lawrenceburg entitled Stories of Faith and Hope. In it, I try to interview people who have inspiring stories in which they had faith that can convey faith and hope to the listeners. Last week we were finally able to launch it as a weekly podcast also. Through all of this I've discovered that everyone has a story and that anyone can choose to have faith, no matter the circumstances. We don't have all the answers here on earth, but that's alright. Faith couldn't exist if we did.

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Writer's Block

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Writer's Block

I'm sure you've all experienced it. It's the worst enemy of a college student at midnight the night before a ten-page paper is due. It's the monster hiding under the bed of a successful business person who has to explain to their board the reasoning behind their next big idea. It's the un-talked about villain for anyone who has to produce content on a regular basis - or even those who don't. You may have guessed it: I'm talking about writer's block. A couple of colleagues and I recently began a blog specifically for Seventh-day Adventist young adults and we were just discussing the other day how sometimes we just sit down at the computer and look at the blinking curser with nothing to say. As a pastor, I have my share of writer's block. My job entails a lot of content: preparing blog posts, radio programs, sermons, worships, prayer meetings, the list goes on. In fact, there are times I stand up to preach feeling like my sermon may easily be over in ten minutes and the congregation won't get anything out of the message I've prepared. But those are the sermons that God seems to use the most to reach people. In my insufficiency He speaks the words that need to be spoken.

The apostle Paul had a problem. No one knows exactly what it was, but scholars tend to think that he may have struggled with his eyesight after being struck blind on the Damascus Road. Whatever his ailment, he begged God to take it away. Three times he bargained and pleaded, asking for this thorn in his flesh to be removed. Finally God answered his prayer in a way he didn't expect. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then exclaims, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). We don't always have the words to say. We don't always know exactly what we are supposed to do. And sometimes, that's alright. Because it is when we are at our weakest that God is at His strongest. Next time you don't feel up to the task He has given you, turn it over to Him. Boast in your infirmities! Let the power of Christ rest upon you. He's the one who gives you the task and He's the one who ultimately accomplishes it through His power.

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Spending Time Together

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Spending Time Together

Sometimes I'm not sure if Chelsea and I actually know what romantic means. For our first anniversary, we went away this last weekend to Charleston, South Carolina. That's romantic enough, but we ended up spending more time re-living history than doing "romantic" activities. We took an audio tour around the old city, visiting important sights from the revolutionary and civil war. We took a ferry ride out to Fort Sumter, the location of the beginning of the Civil War. We toured the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier built during World War II that became famous for picking up the astronauts of Apollo 8. And we went through a Vietnam experience, walking among the buildings and vehicles of a camp deep in the heart of Vietnam. We did find time, however, to eat at a couple of nice restaurants and wander through the shops and cobblestone streets that define iconic Charleston. I guess when it comes to marriage, it doesn't really matter what you're doing as long as you're with the person you love.

Ever since the beginning of time, God has wanted a relationship with His children. He walked and talked with Adam and Eve. But since sin entered the world, it has brought a separation between Him and us. He still tried to find ways to live with His people, though. He told Moses to build a sanctuary so He could dwell with His people. Even then, however, they had to come to Him in the center of the camp. So He finally sent His son, who lived among us. But sin still existed and Jesus had to return home to heaven. Yet He had paved the way for us to be able to spend eternity with God. In the book of Revelation we read, "I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'" (Revelation 21:3). Someday soon we will get to spend eternity with our best friend, our Creator and Redeemer. And it won't matter what we are doing because we will be with the Person we love. Aren't you looking forward to that day?

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An Ancient Message

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An Ancient Message

Nearly 2 months ago on beautiful late January day in Western Australia, a couple of women were walking along the sand dunes on the beach. Suddenly, a bottle, half-buried in the sand, caught one of the women's attention. Picking it up, she decided it would make a great enhancement to her home's decor. When the women caught up with the rest of their party, Tonya handed the bottle to her son's girlfriend. This is when they discovered the tightly rolled piece of paper inside. It turns out that nearly one hundred thirty-two years before, the captain of the German ship Paula had placed a piece of paper into this bottle stating that he was studying ocean currents and requesting that if anyone should find this message, to let him know when and where the bottle was found. The National Meteorological Service of the Federal Republic of Germany found the logbooks for the ship and discovered an entry made by Captain O. Diekmann on June 12, 1886, stating that he had placed a message in a bottle. This was the same day written on the note in the bottle, with the same pen and the same handwriting. That would make this note in a bottle the oldest ever found, having gone 131 years and 223 days since it had been tossed into the ocean.

As exciting as this story is, there's a message given to each one of us that is much, much older. In fact, it's a love letter, addressed to us from a God who longs to be a part of our lives. In the book of Isaiah, God compares His Word to rain and snow that waters the earth and causes vegetation to grow. "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). Unfortunately, Captain O. Diekmann's note never achieved the purpose for which it was sent. After remaining hidden for nearly 132 years, all it is now is simply a relic from the past. God's word is different though. It will always accomplish it's purpose. And even though it has been around for thousands of years, it's never too late to respond.

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Paul and the Isthmian Games

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Paul and the Isthmian Games

For the past two weeks, the world has watched as 2,930 athletes from 92 countries braved the cold and snow of PyeongChang, Korea, to compete in winter sports. I find it incredible watching people break records and achieve things with their bodies that have never been done before. It honestly makes me wonder how much our bodies are actually capable of! As you may know, the Olympics were a Greek tradition from about 776 BC to AD 393. The events that were included in the ancient games, however, were all summer events. After the modern games began in 1896, winter events were gradually included in the Olympic program until the first winter olympic games were held in 1924. Ever since then, every four years, the world comes together in the ice and snow to achieve the impossible.

The ancient Olympic Games were events that drew the world together as well, even more than they do today. But they were not the only games that the ancient world attended. The Isthmian Games were held every other year, both the year before an Olympics and the year after an Olympics, in the city of Corinth. In preparation for the games held in the spring of AD 51, Paul and eventually Silas and Timothy, made their way there. Many of the people who attended these games would stay in tents, which is probably one of the reasons Paul went to Corinth. There he met a couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla. "So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers" (Acts 18:3). Here, Paul stayed for nearly 2 years, using the attendance of the Isthmian Games to share the Gospel. Do we have opportunities like that today? Try to find things that are already drawing people together and use them as an avenue to share the gospel. Who knows who you will be able to reach this way.

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Billy Graham: A Tribute

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Billy Graham: A Tribute

I never met Billy Graham or got to hear him speak in person. Yet, the news that he passed away this morning at age 99 saddens me. He is certainly listed among the greatest preachers of all time, such as Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, and H.M.S. Richards. Born on a farm in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1918, he didn't have the advantage of a family who believed in God. But after his conversion during a revival at 16, he devoted his life to Christ and eventually discovered his call to ministry. Unfortunately, however, he was a terrible speaker and an incredibly shy individual. But God was able to give him the words and the abilities to become one of the most widely respected ministers of our time. Even after his mentor, Charles Templeton, left the ministry and announced his atheism, Billy Graham remained strong in his faith. There are several aspects of his ministry that remain an inspiration to me. Billy Graham remained free of scandal while so many other pastors have become the center of controversies. He became a friend to all, whether the poor and lonely or the famous and powerful. And Billy Graham ever preached the love, mercy, and compassion of God.

One of my favorite promises in the Bible is found in the book of Isaiah. It goes like this: "How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7). As you think about the life and impact of Billy Graham, ask yourself what you can do to bring glad tidings. Who will you share Jesus with? Are your feet beautiful? It's hard to fathom a life and ministry like Billy Graham's, but if I can make even a fraction of the difference in this world that he did, I will be satisfied.

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The Greatest Love Story

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The Greatest Love Story

Once upon a time, a baby girl was abandoned in a field. Bloody and dirty, her parents had left her there to die. And she would have, except for a young man who happened to pass by. He saw the baby and cleaned her up. He found a place for her to live where she grew into a beautiful young woman. The next time the man traveled through that region, he stopped in to visit the family. He ended up staying for awhile and as the days passed, he and the woman began to fall in love. There was a beautiful wedding and the two lived happily ever after - at least for awhile. The man was the perfect husband, buying clothes and jewelry and expensive food for his wife. But all too soon, she began to look at other men and wonder what it would be like to be with them. She began sleeping around. It started small, but before long she was a full-blown prostitute. It got so bad that she began bribing men to sleep with her. The only option that seemed to be left for her marriage was divorce. But things started going from bad to worse for the woman and in the depths of her despair, she remembered the love that her husband had for her. She went back to him, sobbing and asking for his forgiveness. With love and compassion the man took her back. They had another wedding, recommitted themselves to each other, and lived happily ever after - for real this time.

As crazy as this story sounds, it is all true - and found in the Bible. In Ezekiel chapter 16, God tells the greatest love story ever told. It's the story between His people and Himself. The story above is my paraphrase of that story. The most amazing part is that after everything has happened, God said, "Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you" (Ezekiel 16:60). Even though we have broken our covenant with God so many times and cheated on our marriage, God remembers the covenant He made with us and is willing to forgive and begin again. What a wonderful God we serve! This truly is the greatest love story ever told.

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Are They the Same?

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Are They the Same?

Isn't it funny the things we choose to talk about? The news has been filled with so many things lately, from the president's tweets to the latest controversies in Hollywood. Yesterday the world stopped and watched as the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world, was launched from a historic pad in Florida, hurdling a Tesla Roadster into deep space. But what caught my eye as I was scrolling through the News App on my phone was a picture that's causing great debate on the Internet. Are the images above depicting the same road, taken at the same angle and from the same height, or are the roads going in different directions? This is the question that is causing a lot of debate currently. Of course, the best way to find out would be to place one picture on top of the other and see whether they line up or not. Someone did that and, sure enough, the pictures are identical.

This picture reminded me of something else that people have a lot of opinions about. As different people read the Bible, they get so many different ideas that it makes you wonder if we really are all reading the same words. How can we know for sure that what we think the scriptures mean is really what they mean? Jesus promised His disciples before He left Earth, "When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come" (John 16:13). If we ask for the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth before we open the Bible, we can be sure that He will help us understand the truth. Won't you ask Him the next time you read His Word?

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